travis cready
The Baron boys with a nice reef catch during their annual fishing voyage to the Florida Keys.

Hopefully you’ve recovered from your New Year’s Eve celebration and are ready to get out on the water and take advantage of some excellent fishing.

Last week we had several productive trips to the reef aboard the Best Bet, catching good numbers of snapper, grouper and mackerel, with a few cobias and sailfish mixed in. For targeting snapper work the patch reefs between 20 and 40 feet of water using live pilchards on a jig head. The mangrove bite has been good, and we’ve also hooked into several keeper muttons fishing those depths as well.

Keep in mind that grouper season is now officially closed so you have to throw back all the groupers you catch, even if they are legal! I know that it’s painful to release a 25-inch black grouper, but it’s good for the fishery and these regulations are in place for a reason.

Nice cero mackerels caught aboard the Best Bet on 8-pound test.
Nice cero mackerels caught aboard the Best Bet on 8-pound test.


One species that often does not get enough credit, both for being a hard-fighting game fish, and for the delicious table fare when served fresh or smoked, is the cero mackerel. Ceros provide great excitement on light tackle for both beginners and experienced anglers. We like to target them using our light yellowtail snapper rods, which can be quite a challenge when you hook into a big mackerel on 8-pound test.

Another great thing about targeting ceros is that you can usually find them throughout the reef, and you can catch them using a variety of baits. Ceros can be caught from 15 feet out water out to the deep reef edge and will eat a live pilchard or shrimp, a spoon, or a top-water plug. This makes them readily available for anglers that aren’t able to throw a cast net, or who are unable to find live bait. Just remember to always use a light stretch of wire to keep from getting bit off.

Another bonus is that ceros can be targeted while fishing for other species, such snapper and grouper. Put a live bait out in the rigger while you’re anchored up and let it swim around on the surface. You’ll have a good shot at enticing an aggressive cero, or even a big kingfish.

Also on the reef and off the edge we’re seeing more and more sailfish show up each day. Hopefully the cold front that pushed through last weekend will bring even more fish into the area. In addition, we’re starting to see more cobias show up on the Atlantic side, so be sure to keep an eye out for rays while you’re cruising over the sand.

In the backcountry, the redfish and snook fishing has been red hot. Hook up with one of the excellent Florida Keys inshore guides and let them introduce you to the wonderful fishery of Everglades National Park.

Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Light-tackle mackerel action!

Cero mackerel fishing provides tons of fun for anglers of all ages and skill levels. We’ve been catching big ceros throughout the reef and the fishing should only get better in the weeks ahead.

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